Dalton Archer, who turned 11 in June, had to sit down when Morris brought up evidence police found at his home detailing a plan to kill Jennifer Albright.
“This was not the action of an enraged child,” Morris said. “He planned this.”
A trial was scheduled for Thursday morning, but it became a sentencing hearing when Archer pleaded guilty to felony murder and possession of a gun during the commission of a crime in the Dec. 30 slaying of 31-year-old Albright at her Midville, Ga., home. Archer received the maximum sentence from Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders of being held in custody until he turns 21. Saunders said he would have the option to appeal for a shorter sentence annually.
Archer is the second person of his age to be charged in connection with a murder in Georgia, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice records. The other is a girl charged in Fulton County, but DJJ declined to release details. According to the agency’s records, they are the youngest inmates to be held in connection with murders.
At the hearing, Morris said Archer had planned to kill Albright before December. He was going to get his 8-year-old cousin to tell Albright the toilet was broken and ask her to look at it. When she was cornered in the bathroom, Archer would grab a gun and shoot her, “five times in the head and eight times in the stomach,” Morris said.
The morning of Dec. 30, Albright was watching Archer, his younger cousin and her 2-year-old daughter.
According to Morris, Archer grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun he received as a Christmas present and shot Albright in the back while she was changing her daughter.
“He said, ‘That’s what you get,’ ” Morris said.
Archer then fled with his younger cousin into the woods. Archer told his cousin they would tell police an intruder shot Albright or they would both be in trouble. The boys went to a fire station and called police.
Burke County investigators and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents soon began to notice inconsistencies in the boys’ stories.
After three hours of questioning, Archer suddenly confessed and began to sob. At first he said it was an accident, but after being read his Miranda rights, he admitted to pointing the gun at Albright and shooting her.
The confession, which defense attorney Pete Theodocion tried to get thrown out, was ruled admissible by Saunders. The judge said the confession was of Archer’s “own free will,” and therefore would be used as evidence.
Theodocion argued the then-10-year-old was too young to understand his rights and was forced into a confession after hours of inquiries by officers.
“Parents better hope their kids don’t commit a crime,” Theodocion said. “The Burke County officers and the GBI will browbeat a confession out of them.”
In light of Saunders’ decision to admit the confession, Theodocion said Archer felt the “overwhelming evidence” against him warranted a guilty plea.
“He feels a lot of sorrow and a lot of guilt,” Theodocion said.
Theodocion said Archer had made threats before the murder, which were ignored by the adults around him.
“Something within him was wrong,” he said. “There were wires crossed.”
Sherri Stoney, Archer’s guardian ad litem, said she thought Archer was in need of anger management therapy and the Division of Family and Children Services should be involved in his next steps.
After the hearing, a teary-eyed Kim McCollum, Archer’s mother, said she felt she had lost her life along with her son.
“I’m sorry for everything everyone is going through,” she said. “But I will stand by my son, no matter what.”
Theodocion said he thought the boy’s circumstances had partially led to the murder.
“Probably the worst thing possible is to take a young man who is showing problem signs and allowing him unsupervised access to guns,” Theodocion said.